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|12 ноября 2006
Shoalts: Antropov revelling in his new-found health // Globe and Mail
Eight years after he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nik Antropov's future is still almost as mysterious as it was when he was an unknown 18-year-old plucked out of Kamenogorsk.
He is like his country, Kazakhstan, in a way. The only thing most people know about it is the merciless satire that comes from Borat, the Kazakhstani newsman character invented by comedian Sasha Baron Cohen.
For most of his Leafs career, Antropov was known primarily for being cheered when his name was announced as one of the players scratched from the lineup. A series of injuries, from major ligament tears in both knees to a separated shoulder to his most recent malady, a sprained ankle, meant Antropov's name was called more often than not; since becoming a Leaf in the 1999-2000 season, the closest he has came to playing a full 82-game season was in 2002-03, when he appeared in 72 games.
Antropov is not sure what kind of player he will be. Is the 6-foot-6, 230-pound force of late someone who drives to the net yet has soft hands and a sizzling wrist shot, or a guy who crashes and bangs along the boards to get the puck to other shooters or a guy whose body is too brittle for the National Hockey League?
"That's a really tough answer," he said. "Right now, it feels good and everything is going in. I just try to help, to do anything I can on the ice, make some plays, score some goals. The main thing is to help the team win."
This is a rare period of serendipity for Antropov. He returned to the lineup on Oct. 28 after missing the first 11 games of the season with a sprained ankle. He started slowly, with one assist in his first five games, then caught fire when head coach Paul Maurice put him on Mats Sundin's line with another bruiser with good hands, Alexei Ponikarovsky.
When Sundin was lost to an elbow injury two games after that, Maurice put tiny Kyle Wellwood between the towering pair and said there was no reason they could not produce Sundin's missing offence among them. In his past three games, Antropov has produced four goals and an assist, including a 58-foot wrist shot that drove goaltender David Aebischer from the net in the Leafs' 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
"He may not excel in any one area necessarily, but he's probably one of the top four or five shooters on our team," said Maurice, who thinks Antropov will develop into a net-crasher with great hands in the new NHL. "[Saturday's goal] looks bad maybe on video, but that was a perfectly well-placed shot. He's done that in practice from farther out over and over again. That wasn't a lucky shot. He has an incredible wrist shot.
"Foot speed is not his calling card," Maurice added. "He needs a little room to get going. And when he does that, his hand skills are exceptional, so what's missing is health and the confidence to be the shooter every time he gets his hands on the puck."
Considering the knocks Antropov has endured, it is a wonder he has any confidence at all. He admits to getting depressed in his rookie season after his first major knee injury. But Anna Goruven, who worked for Antropov's agent, Don Meehan, as a liaison and unofficial den mother to the Russian players, helped him out of it along with Paul Henry, a psychologist and hockey scout.
"I was kind of, you know, I couldn't find myself on the ice," Antropov said.
Life away from hockey was not any easier. Antropov's mother died when he was a child. Antropov's father worked long hours in a factory in Kamenogorsk and it took a heavy toll on his health. He was in his early 50s when he died suddenly a year ago.
A year before that, Goruven died of cancer — she was 50 — and Antropov again lost a mother figure.
Despite this, Antropov is an engaging fellow with a lively sense of humour. He is a big fan of Borat, unlike many of his countrymen, and if the catcalls from the Leafs fans bother him, Antropov has never said so.
But if the Leafs fans never come around, Antropov can say he is not alone. A target from the 1990s, Larry Murphy, had his picture flashed on the scoreboard video screen on Saturday and a few boos were heard. But Antropov should remember this — Murphy's picture was shown as part of a collage of members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.